What was Google thinking? Here’s the background: the firm created a "hilarious" April Fool's tool that allowed you to send a gif of a Minions character dropping a microphone to symbolise: ‘This conversation is over.’ You can watch what happens in this blog post.
So far, so pointless. But here’s where it gets ridiculous. The firm inserted this tool into the place in Gmail where the ‘send and archive’ button usually sits. This meant that anyone who wasn’t paying attention and working at speed started using the tool without realising.
And here’s where it gets really ridiculous. Once the message was sent Gmail purposefully did not display any replies that were received on that thread.
So at its core, the tool caused users to unknowingly send a seemingly rude gif that then stopped a conversation to the point at which replies were never displayed.
This led to an explosion of fury from those who suffered serious consequences from the idiotic prank, including some who claim to have lost their jobs.
“I am a writer and had a deadline to meet. I sent my articles to my boss and never heard back from her. I inadvertently sent the email using the 'Mic Drop' send button," said one.
"There were corrections that needed to be made on my articles and I never received her replies. My boss took offence to the Mic Drop animation and assumed that I didn't reply to her because I thought her input was petty (hence the Mic Drop).
"I just woke up to a very angry voicemail from her which is how I found out about this 'hilarious' prank."
There are many other tales like this. Google has since apologised to those affected, but it all seems too little, too late.
Aside from being another example of why 1 April is the most pointless, idiotic day in the calendar, especially for multi-billion dollar technology firms to engage in, it also shows that companies need to slow down.
It’s easy to imagine an over-excited meeting of an engineer, marketing person and division chief who come up with the idea in a blur of laughter and idea overload: “And then ... you shouldn’t get any replies back!”
But a bit of sober reflection should have made someone realise that this was a bad idea from the start.
A billion people use Gmail and it is the lifeblood of many people’s working lives, so any change to its features needs to be carefully considered. This is true when it’s the addition of a proper new feature.
But adding a Minions gif-sending tool that stopped all replies and was placed directly where a feature used everyday usually sits is the sort of thing that, after five minutes, hell five seconds, should be thrown in the bin and never spoken about again.
That it wasn’t is, to me, indicative of the all-consuming fail-fast culture that is usually held up as a beacon by technology companies and, increasingly, all companies.
As firms turn to technology that makes it easier to start putting stuff live and fixing it on the fly, often by using cloud services like Azure or AWS, it makes it easier to try less than perfect ideas. Not only that, but it can be done without any major capital investment.
This is great in many ways, and I talk to more and more end user firms embracing this ethos. IT teams are now in a position to facilitate these digital ideas, rather than just saying no.
However, this ability to do things quickly without having to worry too much about failure, because cost concerns are removed or the technology now exists to enable such experiments, needs checks and balances.
The Google Mic Drop fiasco shows that having an idea is not the same as having a good idea.
Businesses would do well not to get obsessed with trying everything out, putting it all out there and thinking: 'It's OK, we're failing fast' if things go wrong.
Because, while innovation and ideas need testing in real-world environments and can yield important insights, on other occasions failing fast is just failing and could have major repercussions.
Google can probably withstand the negative publicity from its spectacularly bad April Fool's gaffe, but other firms could find themselves in dire straits if a badly-thought out idea goes live and causes damage to customers or clients.
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